For the last six weeks, Tony Sumler had been job hunting in Memphis. He found one with the Detroit Lions last Monday as a cornerback and had the game-winning touchdown thrown over him in yesterday's 21-19 Detroit loss to the Washington Redskins.
"The only thing about all of this that surprises me is that I wasn't nervous, not at all," said Sumler. "Maybe I should have been."
Sumler, forced into the game when Luther Bradley injured his neck in the third period, played well until the Redskins' John McDaniel got behind him to catch a 25 yard strike from Joe Theismann with 1:24 to play.
Actually, Sumler, who was cut by the Lions in August, did not get beaten by that much.
"We had a split coverage on the play," Sumler said. "I came up and jammed him (McDaniel) and then ran with him. He just dipped outside. I was stride for stride with him, but it was a nice throw and a nice catch. I knew what my coverage was, but I was never able to see the ball."
Sumler said he was supposed to have some help deep, but it never arrived.
McDaniel said he was running a simple out pattern and , when Sumler came up, turned up field and made the catch in the end zone.
Theismann was throwing against a rag-tag Lion secondary. Two starters, safely Jimmy Allen and cornerback James Hunter, were injured and did not play. Then Bradley got hurt and the Lions were in serious trouble.
What kept their defense clicking was the line, especially rookie defensive end Al Baker. He sacked Theismann once, hit him as he threw to force an interception on another play and harassed Theismann even when he didn't get him.
"People pay money to see a quarter-back run for his life," said the 6-foot-6 Baker, who once branded a B on his right arm with a coat hanger. "We beat them physically and they know it, but Theismann had a lot of poise. The old guy they got - Billy Kilmer - he couldn't have stood back there. An immobile guy like that - we would have killed him. Theismann moves well and he has the quickest release I've seen. You've got to respect that guy. I like him."
The Lions (1-5) had allowed their quarterback to be sacked 24 times the first five games, but Gary Danielson, making his first start in place of Greg Landry, went down only once.
Danielson is more mobile than Landry, and the Lions blocked better yesterday than they had in the past.
"We made a lot of adjustments," said Danielson, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 153 yards."We came out throwing and it helped our running game and our passing. We opened things up and played like we weren't afraid to take some chances."
The Lions did seem a bit timid, though, when it came to short yardage situations. Three times they had fourth and one close to the Redskins' goal line, at the one, five and 14 yard lines. All three times they kicked field goals instead of going for the first down or the touchdown.
Coach Monte Clark said he never considered passing up the field goals.
"Down near the goal line is the hardest place for any team to move the ball. Dallas couldn't get into their end zone and I didn't think we could either," Clark said.
"We moved the ball on them when we did by just going straight at them. You aren't going to fool them with sucker plays and that stuff. You have to go right at them. But, heck, they're 6-0 because they can make the big play when they need it."
The biggest play the Redskins made, according to Clark, was near the end of the half when Donnie Harris blocked Tom Sklandany's punt and Gerard Williams recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Instead of going in at the half down by 9, the Redskins were down only 9-7.
Sklandany said he could see the Redskins were going for the block. I even kicked it quicker than I usually do," he said, "but there was a breakdown somewhere and they got in. I was thinking about kicking it quick, but I was also thinking about not kicking it anywhere near Tony Green. Maybe I was thinking about too much."
The Lions, whose fans booed them everything but beaten," Clark said. "It's disappointing, of course, but I've never been prouder of a football team. Our theme this week was to never give up, and they did what we asked of them."